R&R Fly Fishing Hosted Trip to Madison River, 2006

R&R Fly Fishing Hosted Trip to Slide Inn 2006: Madison River, Montana

Madison drift boat color

Charity and I have been fishing the rivers in and around Yellowstone National Park for a number of years. Every year upon our return we’d hear comments like “I wish I could go with you,” and “I’d love to do that but I wouldn’t know where to go.” As a result R&R Fly Fishing began hosting Western fly fishing trips in 2005.

Our base of operations has been the Slide Inn on the banks of Montana’s Madison River. In 2006 we hosted two separate groups at the Slide Inn. The first was September 9-16 and the second group was September 16-23.

We headed out from Townsend, TN with our car packed and our Hyde drift boat in tow. Flying is a much easuer way to go and we certainly recommend it, but flying limits the equipment we can bring. New airline regulations prohibit drift boats from flying. Additionally, we always try to make stops on new rivers along the way.

Big rainbow

This year we made a short stop on the upper Bighorn River near Thermopolis, Wyoming. This is the same river you’ve probably heard of, but much further upstream. We fished the “Wedding of the Waters” section of the river downstream of Wind River Canyon which is seen in this photo. We’ve seen large Trico mayfly hatches here in the past but it was sparse by comparison this year. We picked up a few small rainbows and one pretty good cutthroat in a few hours. More than anything we were happy to get out of the car and string our fly rods after a couple days of driving. We left in the late afternoon to continue our trip to Montana via Yellowstone Park.

The Madison is among our favorite western trout rivers and we can honestly say we’ve never seen another river that compares to it. The Madison flows swiftly from the Rocky Mountains to the plains where it joins the Jefferson and Gallatin Rivers to form the Missouri. In spite of the fact that the Madison is a large river by any standard, we fish it in a way that is remarkably similar to the way we fish streams in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.

The water is extremely swift and trout hold in small pockets of slower water. You can see from this photograph that Charity is making short casts along the banks and using the same high stick technique that works back home. Flies we used ranged from #8 foam hoppers to #18 caddis and Blue Wing Olive imitations. #18 Serendipities are also effective nymphs that can be fished alone or as a dropper under a dry fly. The stretch of water shown here is one of our favorites on the Madison and within walking distance of the Slide Inn.

Every morning our group would gather for breakfast before heading out on the water. A hot breakfast is served and is always more than enough food to get the day started. Eggs, potatoes, bacon, sausage, and breakfast burritos were some of the things served. Trey, shown here with the pitcher of coffee, has been our chef for the past two years. He keeps us fed well at both breakfast and dinner. Dinners included meals such as Shrimp Alfredo and Prime Rib. This photo is from the second week. Matt Smargiasso is seated on the end, Peter Petruzzi is in the green, and LaDawn Ostman is closest.

breakfast

Like everyone else at Slide Inn, Trey is pretty handy with a fly rod too! I got to spend a day on the river with Trey toward the end of our stay at the Slide. We took turns on the oars and picked up some nice fish. Trey spends most of his time casting streamers on the Madison.

After breakfast everyone grabs their gear and heads out front to meet their guides. Here is a photo of Perry Browning and Carlo Noland from Kentucky discussing the options for the day with their guide Dave. Other anglers along on the first week were Barry & Liz Huber, Dan & Jane Holloway, and Keith McMurray. Perry and Carlo provided what may be the best story out of both groups. One day they ventured into Yellowstone to fish Lamar Valley. On the way back to their vehicle they sited a pair of wolves at dusk. This is almost a once in a lifetime experience as most wolves are sighted from a distance with binoculars or just quickly crossing a road.

Madison trip

Kelly Galloup is the owner of Slide Inn and oversees daily operations of the fly shop and guide service. Kelly has been in the fly fishing business as a guide and outfitter for 30 years. The guides that work out of the Slide Inn are among the most experienced in the Rockies. Most of them are on the water almost every day of the season.

The Madison offers several different types of fishing. Wading is possible in a number of spots, but floating is more popular because of the river’s swift nature and slick rocks. However, it’s not uncommon for your guide to choose a stretch of river that allows for good wade fishing as well as good float conditions. Nymph fishing consistently produces the best results, but dry fly fishing can be good. Streamer fishing can be phenomenal on the Madison and streamers usually account for the best fish each season.

Guide and drift boat

Charity and I fish on our own while the rest of our group fishes with their guides. Over the course of our trip we generally get on most stretches of the Madison either floating or wading. We also make some excursions into Yellowstone to see the wildlife as well as fish other rivers there. Anyone who has spent much time around the two of us knows that we are streamer fishing fanatics. While the nymphing can be very good on the Madison, we can’t help but to keep casting the big streamers. We caught both of these browns on a float from Lyons Bridge to Palisades. As you can see the weather was warm in the afternoon. In fact, we did a little bit of wet wading.

In fact, the streamer fishing had been a little slow so I broke out a nymph rod. I picked up one small fish rather quickly, but Charity advised me to switch back. I nodded but kept casting. The drift boat slowly came to a halt when Charity dropped the anchor. “You’d better switch NOW!” she said and pointed to a stretch of river that had one downed tree after another along the banks. Good thing I listened. Charity rowed the boat into position as we glided down the river. This solid brown came out of the first good spot that came along. We drifted for about 200 yards as the fish used the swift currents of the Madison to hasten his run down the river.

Ian, big brown

We use streamer tactics on the Madison that are similar to those we use on southern tailwaters. We used a Scott E2 6 weight fly rod. This is a stiff rod with an action that is ideal for casting big flies. A heavy fly gets down fast to where the fish are and a sink tip fly line keeps it down. Kelly Galloup is a streamer guru and has devised a number of extremely large patterns. Most use two hooks and are articulated so they wiggle. This particular fish ate a #2 White Zuddler, a fly that came out of our Clinch River streamer box.

About half the time Charity and I waded the Madison. In actuality, you usually move along the banks of the river rather than truly wade out very far. The river is so swift it can knock you down even if you’re only knee deep in many places. Blue Wing Olives begin to hatch well in September and caddis hatch for a good part of the season. Dry fly fishing is often pretty good in the pocket water along the banks. This brown that Charity has landed is typical of the fish we would get to rise.

Charity, brown trout

Rainbows are actually more common than brown trout in the pocket water near Slide Inn. This rainbow is a good example of an average fish in this section of the river. While the Madison rainbow trout were nearly decimated by whirling disease about 10 years ago, the river has made an amazing comeback. Most anglers would never know that trout populations were at rock bottom only a few years ago. Fish on the Madison are extremely strong. Add swift water to their muscle and you’ll usually fight them for a while before they’re ready to come to the net.

Barry & Liz Huber fished with Scott the first week we hosted. Scott put them on some nice fish, taught them some methods for the Madison, and showed them a great time.

Barry picked up this nice rainbow on the last day of his stay at Slide Inn. The weather turned cold and crummy that last day, but the bite was pretty good. This fish ate a tiny nymph just upstream of the inn. There were several fish about this size caught that day.

Yellowstone National Park is one of our favorite places in the world. We’ve spent more time fishing waters outside of the park in recent years, but September is a great time. Bull elk are bugling and gathering their harems. Buffalo are on the move toward their winter range. The Madison, Gibbon, and Firehole Rivers all fish well at this time of year and big game is everywhere.

pretty drift boat shot

Weather turned a bit colder during the second group’s stay, but more big fish started to move. This photo was taken on the day I fished with Trey and Mike. Mike was Trey’s helper and also helped keep us all well fed. Later this day the weather turned from sunny and cold to windy with snow and sleet. While the weather was foul the fishing was epic! Fortunately the rough weather was only a few hours out of the whole week.

I picked up this nice brown trout on a streamer in the swift braided water between Varney Bridge and Eight Mile Hole while Trey took a turn at the oars. The weather was absolutely awful. In fact, at one point we pulled off the river because there was lightning and thunder mixed in with the sleet and snow that was falling. We took a short break to escape the weather before shoving off again when it broke.

Big Brown Trout

The second group we hosted had several folks that were with us last year. This is Willie Neblett and Skip Riche from Louisiana with their guide Steve Mock. This week the group organized a calcutta, or betting pool on who would catch the biggest fish of the week. In addition to betting on themselves, bets could be placed on anyone. LaDawn Ostman was another angler from the 2005 trip. In ’05 she had the winning fish, a brown that might have gone 8 pounds, to the boat but lost it the last second. However, she came in a solid second place with a 20″ rainbow. She was the odds on favorite going into the week.

However, Peter Petruzzi, known as a big fish headhunter was along this week as well. Peter has caught a brown of approximately 12 pounds on the Clinch in Tennessee and a 21 pound sea run beast in Patagonia. To make things even more interesting they shared a boat and a guide. However, experience from previous trips has shown that novices can shatter expectations. Since we’re professional guides, Charity and I were disqualified by the group as competitors, but were allowed to bet.

LaDawn caught this beautiful 20″ brown on the first day out.

Huge brown trout

It has to be said though that the honesty displayed by all the other anglers was absolutely excruciating in successive days. Several 19″ and even 19 1/2″ were reported, but no one else cracked the 20″ barrier. In addition to the Madison, some of these nice trout were caught on the Jefferson River which a few members of the group floated.

Chicks rule! Charity caught this hefty brown not far from where LaDawn hooked hers. We didn’t measure this fish, but it’s a dandy. This is also the second straight year with women taking top honors with big fish.

After our departure from Slide Inn Charity and I headed a few miles further west into Idaho to spend some time on the Henry’s Fork. This river has a full spectrum of fishing conditions ranging from the slick spring creek water of the Railroad Ranch at Island Park to the brawling rapids below Mesa Falls. The best way to fish the ranch is to “walk and stalk” for risers. This is difficult water but it affords opportunities for some of the largest fish you’ll ever see rising to tiny flies.

Charity and I chose to float further down the river closer to Ashton. Our time was limited so we decided to cover as much water as possible and fish streamers. We were advised that the piece of water we floated was predominantly rainbows with a few large browns in the mix. All we saw that day was rainbows, but all were very nice fish.

Charity Rutter

We already have plans for September of 2007. We’re returning to Slide Inn on the Madison and are also planning a trip to Hyde Lodge on the Henry’s Fork.